Fight for bragging rights

Fight for bragging rights

Fight for bragging rights

Following a splendid start to the season, Karnataka will face their first stiff test when they take on Delhi in their Group 'A' encounter here at the Alur (2) ground from Wednesday.

Having notched up three straight convincing victories, the hosts will know that another win will take them closer to the knockout berth. Delhi (16), who are lying second in the table behind Karnataka (20), carry some momentum into the tie after posting two back to back wins.

The visitors, however, will miss their skipper and leading wicket-taker Ishant Sharma (15), who has been rested ahead of India's Test series against Sri Lanka starting November 16 in Kolkata. In the absence of the pacer, young Rishabh Pant is set to make his Ranji captaincy debut.

In what is a crucial contest, the return of India batsmen K L Rahul and Manish Pandey augurs well for Karnataka. Since their quarterfinal defeat to Tamil Nadu last season, the eight-time champions will be playing with their full-fledged team for the first time.

Rahul, dropped from the ODI squad, will be aiming to get into his groove keeping the Test series in mind. The right-handed opener failed in his first Ranji game of the season against Hyderabad in Shivamogga, producing scores of 4 and 23.

Pandey has blown hot and cold with his performances and the stylish right-hander is in desperate need of a big one. After his staggering consistency with India 'A' helped him get back into the Indian side, Pandey has struggled to make a mark.

Enviable line-up

The senior batting duo is set to take the spots of Pavan Deshpande and D Nischal in the playing XI. On a surface that could assist the batsmen, Karnataka have an enviable line-up. A lot though depends on how they click as a unit. Constant chopping and changing in the team has been the theme for Karnataka in the recent times. Skipper R Vinay Kumar said his team is flexible enough to embrace the changes.

"Frankly, I love three to four cricketers from Karnataka going and playing for India. Because then a lot of players who are sitting out will get their opportunity to play domestic cricket. If the India players come and play first-class games, we only become stronger. So we are very flexible," Vinay offered.

The red-hot form of the top-order batsmen puts less pressure on Rahul and Manish. R Samarth, Mayank Agarwal, Karun Nair and Stuart Binny have been among runs while Karnataka's bowling has been equally impressive. The pace duo of Vinay and Abhimanyu Mithun has made a promising start to the season while the dependable K Gowtham is enjoying a superb run with bat and ball.

While Gautam Gambhir and Unmukt Chand will look to offer a solid start, Delhi's strength lies in the strong middle order consisting of Nitish Rana and Pant. Rana took the first half of the IPL 10 by storm with his blazing knocks and is the current highest run scorer for Delhi with 283 runs from three games. There is no doubt about Pant's destructive abilities and Karnataka would look to prise out the rising youngster as early as possible.

Speedster Navdeep Saini (11 wickets) and left-arm spinner Manan Sharma (12) have been in their elements and Delhi will look to them to challenge the mighty Karnataka line-up.

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